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St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview: The rematch of the 1985 World Series that the Royals won is here

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The teams in Missouri aren’t exactly lighting the baseball world on fire.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals take their annual trip across Missouri (with a detour in Chicago) to take on their cross-state rival Cardinals over the weekend. Since winning 100 games in 2015 under Mike Matheny, they’ve been a good team, but not quite the team they were for the first 16 years of the 2000s. From 2000 to 2015, they made the playoffs in 12 of those 16 seasons. But after their great 2015, they’ve fallen from great to merely good, winning more than they’ve lost every year, but only making the playoffs twice, and it looks like they won’t add a third trip. Of course, many franchises, including their Missouri brethren would very much enjoy that sort of down stretch, but for the Cardinals and their fans, there may be a touch of panic setting in. It’s just been a bit of a bad stretch for them. They were in first place when the day began on Memorial Day, but they lost that day and then nine of the next 11 and they’ve really hovered within a couple games of .500 since.

They didn’t do a lot at the deadline. Their offense ranks in the bottom third of the NL in just about every category, but they didn’t add a bat. If some underperforming players like Paul DeJong would get it going, they wouldn’t have had to, but it’s also hard to look at someone like Paul Goldschmidt and think they’re getting what they paid for when they spent both trade capital and a lot of money to sign him. He’s having a fine year, but they absolutely need more. Nolan Arenado has been better, though probably a touch below what they were hoping as well. If not for Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader, this offense would be in real trouble. The rotation has been hurt by injuries. Carlos Martinez wasn’t having much of a season, but he’s on the 60-day IL anyway right now. Jack Flaherty was having a very good season, and he’s also there, but he’s expected to be back relatively soon at least. So they went out and got Jon Lester and JA Happ, which might be the two least inspiring moves of the deadline. All that said, their bullpen has a chance to shut some doors, so at least they’ve got that going for them.

Royals vs. Cardinals Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Cardinals
Category Royals Cardinals
Winning % .439 .491
Team wRC+ 89 88
Team xFIP 4.49 4.87
Run Differential -89 -49
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 2.4 Nolan Arenado, 3.1

Cardinals Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Dylan Carlson RF 452 .253 .334 .409 9.5% 24.1% 105 1.2
Paul Goldschmidt 1B 454 .269 .335 .443 8.8% 21.1% 113 2.0
Nolan Arenado 3B 439 .264 .319 .500 7.1% 13.2% 118 3.1
Tyler O'Neill LF 328 .276 .338 .508 6.1% 31.1% 129 2.6
Yadier Molina C 319 .254 .295 .381 5.3% 16.6% 84 0.7
Harrison Bader CF 191 .281 .346 .491 8.9% 17.8% 121 1.7
Tommy Edman 2B 450 .255 .301 .376 5.3% 12.9% 86 0.9
Paul DeJong SS 289 .195 .284 .377 9.0% 25.6% 84 0.9

Cardinals Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Andrew Knizner C 120 .196 .317 .284 13.3% 19.2% 71 -0.3
Matt Carpenter INF 191 .195 .250 .314 13.6% 31.9% 83 0.0
Edmundo Sosa INF 190 .249 .324 .337 4.2% 17.9% 85 0.5
Jose Rondon INF/OF 50 .227 .300 .295 10.0% 18.0% 69 -0.1
Lars Nootbar OF 32 .148 .250 .222 12.5% 12.5% 37 0.0

Cardinals Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Alex Reyes 47 48.2 5 4 27.7% 19.7% 2.40 5.09 0.3
Giovanny Gallegos 49 56.1 5 5 29.8% 6.0% 3.36 3.79 1.2
Genesis Cabrera 50 48.0 2 3 26.3% 13.9% 3.38 4.77 0.6

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday - Mike Minor vs. Adam Wainwright, 7:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Minor 22 125.1 8 9 23.0% 7.0% 5.31 4.33 2.0
Adam Wainwright 21 132.2 9 6 22.9% 6.5% 3.53 3.82 2.0

A little more than three weeks shy of his 40th birthday, Adam Wainwright is still pitching and doing it at a high level. It’s kind of crazy. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s putting up a 3.75 ERA when he’s 50. The Royals actually had some interest in Wainwright this winter, but like Yadier Molina, he ended up staying in St. Louis where he’s pitched his entire big league career. It’s still all about the curve for Wainwright. He throws it more than anything and opponents have hit just .184 against it. But the sinker has been insanely effective this year as well, even though it just sits in the upper-80s to very low-90s. Opponents have hit .175 with just seven doubles on it all season. The pitch to look for is his cutter, which he throws about 22.5 percent of the time and opponents have actually done some damage on that. He has been much better at home, which doesn’t help the Royals much, but where he’s struggled some is the second time through the order. Sometimes pitchers who use secondary pitches as primary pitches will hit a little snag the second time through the order because they showed everything the first time. But if that’s the biggest knock on him, he’s doing just fine. I thought Wainwright’s numbers against the Royals would be better, but he’s 5-3 with a 4.02 ERA in 78.1 innings against them in his career. He’s been hit pretty hard by them since 2016 over four starts.

Mike Minor has looked a lot better lately, at least to my eyes. Sure he gave up a couple home runs to the Blue Jays, but who among us hasn’t? He lasted seven innings and kept the Royals in that game with his third straight start that I feel pretty good about. He’s now thrown 19 innings in those three starts with just those two home runs allowed and a 3.32 ERA with 18 strikeouts and four walks. That’s exactly what the Royals need from him. If he can throw the innings and keep the team in the game, he’s doing his job and it’s just nice to see a guy not walk the world. Minor hasn’t been very successful against the Cardinals in his career, but he also hasn’t faced them since 2017.

Saturday - Brad Keller vs. Kwang Hyun Kim, 6:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 22 111.2 7 10 18.6% 10.1% 5.64 4.54 0.8
Kwang Hyun Kim 18 87.0 6 6 18.4% 8.0% 3.31 4.72 1.2

The Cardinals signed Kwang Hyun Kim after a really solid 2019 season in the KBO when he threw his second most innings, struck out his second most batters ever and had his best walk rate. He is the epitome of the old fashioned crafty lefty. His fastball averages 88-90 and has topped out at 92.4 MPH this year. He throws that, a very good slider, a changeup to righties only and a curve that has actually been really effective. He’s backed off his fastball usage some this year and replaced it mostly with the slider as the fastball hasn’t been quite as good this season as it was last year for him in his eight big league appearances. If his changeup was a bit better, he’d be one of those dominant pitchers who shouldn’t be dominant as he has absolutely destroyed lefties, allowing just a .143/.250/.195 line. But righties have hit .258/.316/.417 against him. That’s not bad necessarily, but if he could get the change working, he could be a real handful. On the flip side, he’s been fine with nobody on and then unreal good with runners on. Those things tend to even out. He gave up four home runs in 2.2 innings in his last start after not having allowed one since June 20. It’ll be his first career appearance against the Royals.

I thought Brad Keller looked pretty good in his first two innings in Toronto, but apparently he was dealing with a bit of a back issue even before the start. The Royals didn’t like what they saw from him in the third and they ended up pulling him. He didn’t seem very happy about that and the reports so far are good for him, so he should be good to go in this one. When he’s successful, he’s getting strikeouts and even in his third inning struggle last weekend, he had three strikeouts in three innings, so if he can keep that up with his slider looking so much better of late, he should be able to handle the Cardinals. Aside from Arenado and O’Neill, Cardinals hitters don’t really do much damage to sliders from righties. Keller had been good against the Cardinals until last season when he had a rough start against them.

Sunday - Kris Bubic vs. Jon Lester, 1:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 19 80.2 3 5 19.8% 11.3% 4.57 4.70 -0.3
Jon Lester 17 80.1 3 6 15.0% 8.5% 5.38 5.12 0.0

The Cardinals picked up Jon Lester to fill some rotation void, but unfortunately for them, they weren’t able to get the 2016 or even 2018 version. No, the 37-year old Lester isn’t especially great. He hasn’t really been an innings eater for awhile, but he started to really lose effectiveness in 2019 and then hasn’t really been able to rebound. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but his fastball averages in the upper-80s. Oh and that fastball has been absolutely destroyed to the tune of a .372 average and .580 SLG against it. His cutter is his second most used pitch. He’s allowed a .340 average and .660 SLG on that pitch. His changeup is the only pitch he throws more than 10 percent of the time that’s actually worked. Opponents are hitting .299 with a .581 SLG when they’re ahead in the count. He’s given up a .316/.365/.579 line the third time through the order. Some pitchers age really well. Lester is, well, not doing that.

Kris Bubic’s last start put me into investigative mode and I spent a lot of time looking at his issues with the changeup on Inside the Crown. But maybe more interesting, and noted in that article, was his fastball velocity. He mentioned after the game that he wasn’t feeling his fastball so he just threw it as hard as he could. And it worked. Of the last eight batters he faced, he struck out six of them, all with his fastball. It was popping too. I hope he can keep that up, but even before that, he was pitching really well, so if he can finish his season on a high note, that’d be really fun. The Cardinals have really struggled with lefty starters on the whole, so I feel like he has a chance to do well and if he can keep throwing hard, his changeup to guys like Arenado and Goldschmidt won’t be quite so important.

Prediction

The Royals have proven they can actually win a road game and boy do I really dislike this Cardinals roster. Still, Kim and Wainwright are good and Lester is still Lester who I assume could pull a rabbit out of his hat and be good randomly. I’m going to say the Royals take one of the three in this series.

Poll

Who takes the I-70 Series?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Royals sweep it.
    (19 votes)
  • 50%
    Royals take two of three.
    (62 votes)
  • 29%
    Cardinals take two of three.
    (36 votes)
  • 4%
    Cardinals sweep it.
    (5 votes)
122 votes total Vote Now